Welcome back, faculty and staff!
Today marks the first day our faculty and staff are together back in the (newly renovated) building, getting settled for our second year. We are excited to begin afresh, with our minds and attention focused on the art of teaching. Part of classical education is the recovery of teaching as an art, calling upon human capacities of patience, compassion, ethics, authority, and learning, among others, with the goal of preserving culture and civilization in teaching the young.
But what does it mean to treat teaching as an art? Perhaps this can best be seen by looking at teaching and education through the scientific approach and understanding that reign today. And, as all things supposedly new, there is often an old story that captures the thing more clearly and directly than the mountains of studies intended to further our understanding of human things. There is an ancient Greek myth of Procrustes, the son of Poseidon, known for quite a brutal tactic. He would fit each of his captures to the size of an iron bed, either lopping off the legs if they were too long, or stretching them out if they were too short. The goal, of course, was uniformity, as if each person had to fit the precise dimensions of a bed not made for him. Our lament against standardized tests today is much the same as our disgust at Procrustes, and in the world of education, teachers are no different than students. If there are too many minutely prescribed rules, tactics, lists, and rubrics, then the uniformity that results does not fit the teacher as a mentor and exemplar for students. They cannot come alive for students because the science of teaching, as opposed to the art of teaching, is often crabbed and procrustean.
As such, one of our focuses this year is on the art of teaching. The art of teaching means using one’s prudence and responsibility to make decisions for the classroom, under clear principles that are set out for us by the tradition of classical education. A good comparison is the journeyman, who in his sphere exercises a kind of genius and authority that too many rules, indeed a science of any kind, would hamper. The tradition in which he works gives him the broad outlines of his craft, and within it, he may improvise and excel in his own way. Teachers who achieve the peaks of their craft understand the tradition in which they work and know that the best innovation is one that deepens, extends, develops, or helps explain that tradition.
We are happy to be back, and are looking forward to welcoming our students again next week.